As podcasting continues to grow — both in terms of its popularity and its marketing potential — more and more content marketers are leveraging this audio content technique to build regularly scheduled, long-term relationships with customers and prospects. As a medium, audio represents a powerful and engaging content creation platform.
The captive podcasting audience
Most podcasts are consumed while commuting. It makes perfect sense that audio would be effective in this scenario: You can’t read emails when you’re driving, you can’t watch YouTube videos, and you can’t read a book, or a short story, or a white paper, or a testimonial behind the wheel. But, you can listen to them.
Most podcasts could be better
The problem is, most podcasts suck. (Sorry my podcasting friends.) Why? They suck because they’re inconsistent. They don’t follow a format I can fall in love with. They either rely too heavily on a host’s own ability to deliver a compelling program each and every time, or their format depends on guests to create engagement — both of which can produce uneven results, podcast to podcast, and can make it difficult to build audience loyalty over the long term.
Yet, there are some podcast masters out there that have been able to build, sustain, and even increase engagement in their content over time, and they’ve achieved these goals using the same strategies, tactics, and best practices that content marketers have embraced across other media formats. Let’s take a look at some of these success stories — and the lessons they hold for brands that want to explore the benefits of audio content.
Best-in-breed audio content: NPR
No matter what your politics are, National Public Radio (NPR) producers, writers, and hosts, are among the best in the business when it comes to news content creation —audio or otherwise. They construct riveting stories that are more than just interviews. They combine well-written narration, great music, effective natural sound, and even sound effects to reel audiences into their content. In the process, their content creation efforts have also served to build the NPR brand into a trusted, distinctive and consistent storytelling platform — one that any content marketer would envy.
Even if you aren’t ready to incorporate audio into your content marketing arsenal, there are many lessons you can learn from NPR and other podcasting experts — just by listening to the fruits of their content creation efforts. I’ve compiled a list of eight of my favorite podcasts that I think can help us all better understand how we can combine media and storytelling techniques for smarter content creation.
1. 99% Invisible
Roman Mars, the host of 99% Invisible, was just named one of the most creative people in the world by Fast Company magazine. He built his reputation as a storyteller with this podcast — and it’s amazing!
Wanna listen?: Think information design is a new idea? Think again. Listen to this amazing story about the information design strategies behind the formatting of telephone numbers.
2. On the Media
Okay, content marketers are not in the media business, per se. So why do I recommend this podcast? Each week, On the Media asks big questions about storytelling from a journalism and media brand perspective — and each week I walk away with a new idea, lesson, or cautionary tale that I can apply to my own brand storytelling.
Wanna listen?: This episode, about the purchase of the Washington Post by Jeff Bezos is particularly interesting. There’s depth to the story that wasn’t necessarily conveyed in other media coverage, as well as a thread that weaves together a newspaper strike and a forgotten TV network.
3. Blank on Blank: Famous Names, Lost Interviews
Not many people have heard of this podcast, but it’s a gem of inspiration for any content marketer who is looking to master the craft of creating compelling interview content. Every week, the Blank on Blank team unearths an interview that was nearly lost to the ages, coupled with the back story from the person (or people) who captured the moment. The series will quickly teach you that some of the most interesting stuff happens when you least expect it.
Wanna listen?: Try this harrowing, yet hilarious story that Farrah Fawcett told about how a pair of stiletto heels empowered her to defend herself in a dangerous situation.
4. How Sound: The Backstory to Great Radio Storytelling
This podcast is a treasure-trove of how-to tips from some of the most successful content creators in the world. Everyone from Roman Mars (of 99% Invisible) to Audie Cornish (who conducts 15 NPR interviews a week) share their secrets, tips, ideas, and insight into creating great audio programming. Just to be clear, these tips aren’t just for podcasts — they can be used to create any type of content!
Wanna listen?: Audie Cornish’s discussion on conducting a great interview is phenomenally insightful. I promise you’ll learn a lot of useful tips!
5. Snap Judgment
Hosted by a guy named Glynn Washington, Snap Judgment “drops listeners into the heart of what matters.” Every show has a theme, like “Identity Crisis” or “Chain of Command,” and Glynn delivers a series of wonderfully produced stories that truly elicit emotional responses from the audience — something every content creator wants to achieve!
Wanna listen?: Try this wonderful episode (from over a year ago) called Teacher, Teacher.
6. Back Story with the American History Guys
Back Story is a wonderfully produced current affairs program. Each week, the American History Guys provide perspectives on some key historical events to help us better understand the events happening in our world today.
Wanna listen?: This amazing Back Story episode celebrates the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s march on Washington, and reflects on the long-term impact it has had on issues like race relations, economics, and equal opportunity employment.
7. Hearing Voices
Hearing Voices is a collection of some of NPR’s best public radio stories (many of which never made it to air in certain markets). The stories are riveting. These are the kinds of compelling content stories that create “driveway moments”: when you’re so engaged and invested in a story that you remain in your car after you’ve reached your destination, unable to exit until you’ve heard the end. Just imagine the brand influence you could wield if your content offered this level of quality and value!
Wanna listen?: This episode took a series of sports-related stories and wove them together into an hour-long set of “driveway moments.”
8. The Unconventionals
This podcast is produced by PJA (a marketing agency in Boston) in collaboration with the Columbia Business School. Described in their words, “Mike O’Toole introduces us to the counter-intuitive business stories that are the stuff of ingenuity… and outsized results.” It’s wonderfully produced, and showcases how brands can tell compelling, well-edited stories that are of equal caliber to NPR’s content.
Wanna listen?: Try my favorite episode of the show, “Big Ass Fans.” You’ll see why most marketers should listen, learn, and subscribe to content like this, as well as learn how B2B podcasts can and should be created.
What are your favorite podcasts, and why do they stand out? Share your thoughts in the comments, below.
For more insight from Drew Davis on creating compelling brand content in any format, read “Brandscaping: Unleashing the Power of Partnerships.” You can also listen to an audio-only chapter of the book here.